“Wise Men Say – Only Fools Rush In”

“But I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You.”

It must be the 85th minute  (you either understand this, or you don’t!)

It has been so long since I have written about football (or “soccer” for my US friends and associates and sundry others:  although more and more of them do now refer to it as football – but I digress) and there really has been much to ponder, mull and just generally poke at to see what happens in the world of football.  For the sake of brevity, we shall only look at the goings-on in the US; which are actually rather exciting at this time.

Clint Dempsey steals the number 2 shirt in Seattle.

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Dempsey is one of my favourite players and has been since he was a New England player.  His signing for Spurs last year from Fulham just cemented that.  And really the weekend move from Tottenham to Seattle is massive.  To quote Paul Atreides “the sleeper has awakened” and now that Seattle has decided to go for it, they have shown that they will not fuck around.

They have tied up the best US player, and the national team captain, and paid a market value transfer fee and will pay market value wages for him.  Clint Dempsey will strut his stuff in front of the second best fan base in MLS (and North America) for a club that should be thinking about competing with the biggest clubs in the world.  This is a sign that the MLS is coming.  And to quote Fox Soccer analyst Rob Stone “LA Galaxy, you are on the clock!”

Caleb Porter has the Timbers playing football the right way in Portland.

calebporter

I will admit that I was very skeptical when it was announced that Caleb Porter would coach the Timbers.  It was going to be very hard to follow John Spencer who while seemingly unable to organize a fart in a bean factory, was affable and brutally honest.  But the football played by the Timbers has been of a consistently high level in all phases of the game:  and it is entertaining to watch.

Now, I am tempering my comments by stating that I believe this to be a three-year project as Caleb Porter has a future far beyond coaching an MLS team and that everyone involved in running the Timbers is doing a good job of tempering expectations while still accentuating the positives such as the massively improved road performance without glossing over the issues still needing to be resolved such as too many draws.

Merritt Paulson has the business end of the Timbers pointing in the correct direction

paulson

It would be very easy to stand pat and reap the rewards of sell out after sell out, but the exceptional owner of the Timbers, Mr. Merritt Paulson, dug deep and made shrewd pick-ups this year in Will Johnson, Ryan Johnson and Michael Harrington.  Signing Mikael Sivestre was looking to be a stroke of genius until his knee blew apart.  Instead of hand wringing and tears, the team went out and found Pa-Modou Ka who has shown why he has played at the top level in Europe in Holland.

This has allowed the team to develop Andrew Jean-Baptiste who looked top class the second he set foot on the field last year.  Everyone loves the center back who hammers strikers with crunching tackles and flies into the header, but every team wants the center back who is elegant, refined and who reads the flow of the game (but can still kick lumps out of an opposing player) and that is Andrew Jean-Baptiste. I just hope that the Timbers are able to keep him (and Darlington Nabge) and he becomes a great player here.

The new soccer first stadiums are fantastic for the league and for experiencing the game.

blue hell

I grew up at White Hart Lane and Villa Park and Vicarage Road while watching Spurs, Villa and Watford play in various divisions in the League.  I learned about watching fantastic footballers such as Glenn Hoddle and Andy Gray playing in games that were intense and meaningful and I also learned just as much about the game watching shit players playing for shit teams on a cold Saturday afternoon as they played on a swampy field in driving sleet or rain.

The fan experience was exactly the same.  We sang the same songs and cheered our heroes on and were as defeated as the players were when they lost.  That is the fan experience that is bringing the MLS into the national conversation as to the best sport.  Fans are choosing to actively participate with their heroes and the new stadiums are built to be intimate.  I would love to see something similar to the new KC stadium for the Timbers even though Jeld-Wynn can only be classed as a “house of horrors” for any opposing team.

seattle fans

Seattle has incredible support and I used to go up to Sounders games regularly before the Timbers joined the MLS.  Philadelphia and KC have amazing fan bases as does Houston and Real Salt Lake and they all have fantastic stadiums..  These are the homes of real fans that sing their songs, chant their chants and generally have an amazing time at the game.  If America was not so vast it would be wonderful to see what kind of travelling some of these fan groups would do…

Jurgen Klinsmann just might know what he is doing!

jurgen

For a while there, several years back, the luster sort of began to tarnish on the brilliance that is Jurgen Klinsmann.  The US men’s team had a less than spectacular series of games and then a rocky start to the so called “hexagonal”:  the six team playoff for World Cup spots where it is actually harder to not qualify than to make it to Brazil.

To quote Brian’s mother “e’s not the Messiah, he’s just a very naughty boy!”  Or at least that is what the media was intimating.  But Herr Doktor Klinsmann was brought in to do much more than just qualify the team for the World Cup.  He was brought in to nudge the team from regional power to global power:  and he might just be well on his way.

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The US is very fortunate in that it has had three very good national team coaches in a row – I would love it if England had managed to accomplish that.  What Klinsmann did with Germany was amazing and he set the stage for the new German domination of the game at club level.  German players are commanding top wages and transfer fees worldwide now – many of them got their international debuts under Jurgen Klinsmann.

Joachim Loew, who is also a fantastic manager, is reaping the benefits of this now:  much as I expect Caleb Porter to reap the rewards when he becomes US national team coach after Klinsmann decides he’s had enough.  This is why I feel there is a time frame for the Timbers current plan.

The US National team had an easy time of it at the Gold Cup.

nick rimando

Well this is very true – but it is not because the competition was weak.  The US team showed up well prepared, fit, highly motivated and functional.  Every game posed challenges and through a combination of good tactics, good adjustments, good players and good coaching, each game was won.  And this was really a B team:  but it played exactly like the A team and showed that the US has depth at every position.

In fact several players deserve a lot more of a look as number ones.  Perhaps several starts should be in the offing for Nick Rimando as he was superb in goal.  There are now five legitimate strikers who offer everything from strength to speed to guile to size and Jurgen Klinsmann used different combinations to exploit the weaknesses of the team he was coaching against.

landon

Tactically, the US team has taken the quantum leap on the field from being the hunted to being the hunter.  They now set up the team to win rather than to not lose and very few teams do that and it is the mark of a manager who has supreme confidence in himself and his players.  I also love the fact that he made Landon Donovan play his way back into contention for a roster spot – nobody is more important than the team.

Sometimes enough is enough  

holden injury

Stuart Holden could, and should, have been a great player.  Watching him limp off in the 20th minute against Panama was incredibly sad since it was probably the final time he will wear his national colours.  England’s Owen Hargreaves and Michael Owen come to mind as being the last players to go out this way with severe injury after severe injury sapping everything that was once so great.

A four year spell featuring a broken leg, then another broken leg plus mashed cartilage and now a torn ACL after a relatively innocuous collision might be the end of the international career of Stuart Holden.  This is the player made to fit into the midfield with Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey – now he just needs to recover and get his Bolton career back on track.

Politics will always be part of the beautiful game…

rainbow tifo

Soccer always has been a politically charged sport – that is why Real Madrid v Barcelona is so huge in Spain. It was why the citizens of Brazil used it as the backdrop to air their grievances with their government and FIFA. It is why there is always such trepidation when Roman club Lazio and its “ultras” host teams from the UK or Germany or plays against Roma as they have a very right wing fan base.  And it is becoming a vital part of the game here.

I was incredibly proud to stand in the North End and be part of the amazing rainbow tifo that was shown in a recent Timbers game to show that the Army supports all.  What is developing here is an amazing anti-hooligan culture where the emphasis is on loving your team.  We welcome everybody who supports the Timbers.  We love all of the Timbers players and proudly display their national flags for them.

PTFC

Looking Back On Electing A New Pope

It makes sense that Pope Francis I is from Argentina

pope

After all, God is from Argentina too!

st lionel

Nepotism:  it’s a good thing.

Some Of The Greatest Of Any Time

There is always this morbid fascination that sports fans have with trying to denigrate the great players of an earlier era by stating, categorically and undeniably, that these great players could not exist in the “modern” era.  That, of course, is pure bollocks.

It fails to take into account that the same nutritional and physiological training would be available to these athletes.  Qscar, Kareem and Bob Cousy would be immense if they played in the NBA now.  Dick Butkus would be more than a monster of the Midway.  And football my way (soccer) is filled with legendary players who would dominate today just like they did in their eras.  Here are a few of my favourite players.

Gordon Banks

Every great team needs a keeper and the best ever is Gordon Banks.  He was also the first tragic sports figure that I can recall.  His car wreck and subsequent loss of the sight in one eye ended his career in 1971 when he could easily have played another ten years of top flight football.  His save against Pele in the 1970 World Cup is the greatest save of all time and is amazing to see.

Lev Yashin of the Soviet Union or Dino Zoff of Italy were both amazing goalies, but out of pure patriotism I have a man-crush on Gordon Banks.  And I also believe that if he had played a full career, then there would be no doubt as to who the greatest goalie of all time is.

Eusebio

The ultimate authority on all things football (my late father) maintained that Eusebio was more skilled than Pele.  He watched Eusebio throughout the 1966 World Cup and always raved about Eusebio as a player and my dad got to play against him as well and said that there was no way to stop him.  And on top of all that, Eusebio is a wonderfully humble man.

Eusebio paved the way for many of today’s amazing African players as he went from Mozambique to Portugal to play for Benfica, one of the great Portuguese and elite European teams.  Like many of the other players on this list, he lifted trophies continually throughout his career.

Ferenc Puskas

No list of the all time greats of football would be complete without the mightiest of the Mighty   Magyars.  84 goals in 85 internationals is a phenomenal record in any era.  My granddad took the UAOATF (my dad) to see Hungary play England at Wembly in 1953 and saw the England team played off the field as Hungary won 6-3.

While the entire Hungarian team (and the Honved club team that most played for) of that time is considered to be the genesis of modern football and perhaps the greatest team of all time, Puskas was, like Messi at Barcelona, the focus point of all of that skill.  And then he took his talents to Spain and with another legend, Alfredo di Stefano, created the first “Galcticos” Real Madrid team.

Pele

Is he the greatest player ever?  I love Pele and he is still relevant today.  But it would be nice to see him dial down the rhetoric on his views of Maradona and Lionel Messi.  He cheapens himself so much that he sounds like a Brazilian version of Paul Heyman as he shills for Neymar.  My dad saw Pele play in 1958 and in 1966 live, and of course Santos was touring like the Globetrotters to make money off of Pele’s international appeal.

That appeal is undeniable as he was named Athlete of the Century by multiple sources and was also named as Footballer of the Century by just about everyone; but to me there are still questions about his records as Santos only won two Copa Libertadores in his eighteen year tenure.  And all of his scoring numbers reflect many goals scored in non –counting friendly matches against European opposition.  It would be nice to have some competitive games for a European team against his contemporaries to judge him against.

Lionel Messi

Or is this player going to be the greatest to ever play the game?  I watch “the flea” play for Barca and my jaw drops.  There is so little of him, but he does so much with it.  Let me put it into perspective for everyone:  last year he scored 71 goals in a sport where you are a superstar if you score 20 and a god if you hit for 30.  And he is not the focal point of his teams attack either, just a platinum cog in one of the greatest attacking forces ever fielded in football.

Now while he gets to play against some absolute dogs in La Liga, he also scored at will in Champion’s League and the World Club Cup.  He scores consistently against all teams and he creates many more goals than he scores.  And now he is beginning to take his World Player of the Year Barca form to the international level…

Franco Baresi

And is there any reason that a central defender could not be the greatest player to ever play the game?  In a league that placed a premium on the art of defending, Milan’s Franco Baresi was the absolute master.  But it was by brains rather than brawn that the Italian national team captain dominated world football and held aloft every trophy on offer.

I used to watch him play just to see what I could pick up on to improve my game and my understanding of the game.  He was a chess master playing against thugs, a matador laughing at bulls.  He was a better center back at 40 than anyone else playing the position at that time.  And he did everything better than anyone else at only one truly great club for twenty years, where he is their player of the century and one of the few footballer anywhere to have their number retired.

Paolo Maldini

How great was AC Milan in the 90’s?  The two greatest defenders of all time played alongside each other.  And then when the legendary Franco Baresi finally decided to retire, Paulo Maldini, son of Milan defensive stalwart Cesare Maldini, moved into the center defender role with the grace and style that he had exhibited as a left back.

I firmly believe that all great teams are built left to right and back to front – so a great left back is the cornerstone of a great team.  This man was the greatest attacking full back of all time, and at the same time he was the greatest defensive left back of all time.  When he retired a few years ago at the age of 41, he was still the best defender in the world.  Like his mentor, his shirt number was also retired, the only caveats being that should one of his sons make the Milan team (and they are moving through the system rapidly) then the number will be made available.

Johan Cruyff

Cruyff was the first player who I really studied growing up, as demanded by my uncle, and looking back now I still find him to be mind bogglingly brilliant (YouTube is my friend when it comes to studying the greats).  The Cruyff turn is still one of the greatest moves in all of football.  But the real magic of Johan Cruyff was his ego was such that no matter what position he played (and in the Dutch system he could play every field position in the space of about ten minutes) he believed that he was the best player in the world at that position at that moment in time.

That is called constructive ego and it is a good thing in a professional athlete.  Even when I saw him play in the NASL at the end of his career with no knees, he was better than any other player on the field by miles.  And then to top it off, he became a great manager and then a great director.  His greatest legacy to football may well be the Barcelona football academy that is churning out all-world players like Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, and Cesc Fabregas every season.

Georgie Best

A better player drunk than almost every other player in history sober … a very sad, but oh so true, epitaph for the original “modern’ player and all around Flash Harry.  My conservative Glaswegian granddad hated him and loved him at the same time.  The Belfast side of the family worshipped him.

What I remember most about him were the models he dated and the fur coats he wore and his sideburns and long 1960s hair:  and the goals, lots and lots and lots of goals.  The Northern Irishman was British football’s Joe Namath.  His goal, at the end of his career when his legs and his liver were gone, is still considered the greatest ever as he beat eight players over about ten feet with hip swerves and feints and changes of pace … brilliance.

Glenn Hoddle

The ”Divine Glenda” is on here as he was the English player of my generation who inspired me to become an all round player and who showed that passing the ball is an art in and of itself: I could still pass the ball like a pro when I stopped playing at the age of 42.  Passing and trapping is still the focus of all things that I teach as a coach.

I had the Glenn Hoddle mullet and the Glenn Hoddle shorty shorts and the extra long short sleeved shirt hanging over those shorts and I was left heartbroken and bereft of purpose when he left Spurs for Monaco.  There is even a photo of me somewhere in my daughters’ blackmail box of me in that attire.  He epitomized everything going bad in English football at that time, but in a good way:  he was a multi talented player with flair, guile, power and imagination who was ignored by a succession of England managers for exactly those reasons:  and this remains true to this day.

Franz Beckenbauer

There is something about him that just rubs me the wrong way:  arrogance perhaps?  It might be that this man started the German domination of England in 1970, scoring when West Germany knocked the defending world cup champions out of the1970 World Cup – something that now seems to happen on a regular basis.

“Der Kaiser” has to be on this list as one of the supremely talented players of all time; but personal issues of mine aside.  And he wrote the book on the libero position in football and brought style and elegance (and arrogance) to a position that was more famous for how many legs could be broken in a season.

Now with a few positional issues to work out, there is one hell of a team here – figure playing a 3-4-3 formation.  Baresi, Maldini and Beckenbauer would be a strong back three especially with Gordon Banks behind them.  With Puskas prowling the box and with Pele to his left and Eusebio to his right, it would be a powerful attack.  Cruyff would be the “holding” midfielder with Messi in front of him and Hoddle and Best would be prowling the flanks and providing service to the strikers as well as creating some mayhem of their owm.

There was also a list of players who I really like who could have made this team to:  Beckham, Zidane, Bobby Moore, Christiano Ronaldo, Carlos Alberto, Billy Wright, Gerd Mueller, Georgi Hagi, Romario, Zico, Maradona….and the list goes on.

Torn Between The Twin Loves Of My Life

Since I was old enough to care, there have been two constant loves in my life:  Tottenham Hotspurs and England.  Both are football clubs who have broken my heart on numerous occasions since I started watching football either live or on television around the age of seven (thats like when tvs were black and white, and the players were white).

Last week, England manager Fabio Capello finally said “arrividerci” to North London and fucked off back to Italy, where in all honesty, he should never have been recruited from to run the team in the first place.  The unfortunate circumstance prompting his resignation do not need to be gone into here:  the UK tabloids have more than covered the events between John Terry and Anton Ferdinand that prompted the FA to remove John Terry as England captain (again) and thus giving Capello a supposed moral hight ground to go and enjoy spring time in Rome.

So this leaves the England manager position up in the air and it is truly a job that is a poisoned chalice.  Another managerial position that has been considered such over the years is that of Tottenham manager.  Then a couple of years ago, Harry Rednapp was brought in from Portsmouth and handed the keys. 

In his best cockney manner, he lifted the bonnet and tinkered with the plugs and the wiring and walked around and kicked the tyres and pronounced it to be a good piece of machinery that just needed to do better.  And suddenly it did.  He brought in players that were good (but not great) and asked them to do what they were good at (a strange concept in the world of football) and he told them he believed in them and to believe in themselves and they did.

It has worked to where Spurs are third in the soccer league that is considered, top to bottom, to be the best in the world.  A team who most consistent feature of the past twenty years has been their inconsistency is now consistently consistent and either winning or threatening to win every game:  victories, not moral victories, are the order of the day.

Yesterday they graced me with a first half performance of stunning attacking football against a very good Newcastle team.  They backed this with a second half performance of solid football that refused to allow Newcastle any entry into the game.  Spurs won 5 – 0 after leading 4-0 at the break. 

The real issue is that all of the issues that Harry has dealt with at Tottenham are the same issues that need to be resolved with England:  inconsistent performances, the ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory (a priceless gift to the English breweries, I assure you), devisive and counteractive sniping and fighting amongst players (and players’ wives and girlfriends) and worst of all, fan lethargy and ennui at Wembley which needs to become the fortress it used to be.

Harry Rednapp is the man to deal with all of this.  England will play well under his stewardship.  They will lose some games because he will play English football and his team will attack with speed and skill and occasionally leave themselves exposed at the back.  I can live with this as can most England fans.  We want English football played by the England team just like the Germans now play German football and Spain has excelled while playing their own short passing style.

In a perfect world, Harry would manage both England and Spurs.  But that is not to be.  I think the lure of immortal glory will prove to strong to resist for him and he will become the England manager.  His goal should be to do what he did at Spurs:  set the ship on course and restore faith to the masses.  After all, read the papers,  is this not Proclamation by Adoration?  But what a void it will leave at the Archdiocese of White Hart Lane.

Fox Gives You Their 10 Best: I Give You 10 Of The Rest!

Recently, Fox Sports published their list of the most fascinating people in world soccer.  But to be blunt, I do not find most of these people to be fascinating.  In fact most of them seem downright boring and over exposed to me.  The list per Fox Sports was:

10  Wayne Rooney – Man U and England striker

9   John W. Henry – Liverpool FC owner (and Bawston Redsawx owner too)

8   Ronaldinho Gaucho – Brazilian star and former world player of the year who has re-invented himself

7  Louisa Nacib – Lyon and French midfielder and the breakout star of last year’s Women WC

6  Leonardo – Sporting director of Paris St. Germaine

5  Michel Platini – Head of UEFA

4  Hope Solo – Goalie of US Women’s’ National team and sexy bod extraordinaire

3  Neymar –The next “Pele” – “go and stand in line behind all of the other “Next Peles””

2  Pep Guardiola – Coach of Barcelona

1  Mario Balotelli – Enfant Terrible of EPL and Italian national team,They are, for the most part, over-hyped and underwhelming in how little there actually is to them.  This list is style and no substance.  Really the only people that I really want to know more about are John W. Henry, Louisa Nacib and Leonardo. The others on this list already have way too much written about them on a daily (even hourly) basis.

 It would be far more refreshing to read about some of the people who are in the game out of love or exist behind the scenes and who might actually have something pertinent and interesting to say.  Some of them might even be rather controversial in their views or in light of how they achieved the status they now have.  My list of ten is as follows:

10  Dave Whelan – Owner of Wigan Athletic

The owner of Wigan Athletic since 1995, Dave Whelan has taken the club from the lowest professional division to the Premier League.  Every year, the club is one of the favourites to be relegated back to a lower division and yet, somehow, Dave Whelan manages to succeed in keeping Wigan as an EPL team even as other teams with far greater resources and history fall by the wayside and slide down a division. 

9  Derek Llambias – Managing Director of Newcastle United

In a country that is mad about football, perhaps no fans love their team more than Newcastle.  And these same fans hate the owner and directors of their club more than any other set of fans.  In that area you are either Geordie or you are shite and the owner and the managing director are not Geordies.  Yet somehow, this club is beginning to produce on the field even after major cost cutting measures and the purging of established star names left the fans howling in frenzy and threatening to go bat shit crazy.

8  Suleyman Kerimov – Billionaire owner of FC Anzhi Makhachkala

If there is one truly bizarre story in world soccer it is FC Anzhi Makhachkala in the Russian Super League.  The club is based in the Russian want-away region of Dagestan which basically is Chechnya without the glamour and glitz.  Suleyman Kerimov is a billionaire who was gifted the team by the former President of Dagestan.  Amongst his major signings, Samuel Eto’o stands out as the biggest when he agreed to head to the Russian Islamic want-away state from Inter Milan.   Of course the Anzhi players actually live and train in Moscow and then fly into Dagestan under extreme protection, play a game and then fly back to Moscow.  I see this as a potential solution to make playing for Blackburn more palatable……

7  Karren Brady – CFO of West Ham United and also an outspoken gossip columnist for The Sun.

For some reason, I have always found this lady to be one of the most fascinating people in English football as she is one of the few who will open up and actually talk about the mysterious pantheon of football agents and foreign dealings and money trails.  The way she explains it all, the path of the cash in world football is even more Byzantine than the Vatican (although in retrospect, the Vatican is specifically not Byzantine).  And she is right about it too.

6  Jack Warner – Former President of CONCACAF

This is the former head of the FIFA region the US is based in, and he knows where all of the FIFA bodies are buried, who has how many little fat fingers in what financially improper pies, and who prefers prosys over cash over Rolexes over Ferraris.  And best of all he feels he was hung out to dry by FIFA and its beleaguered President (for life?) Sepp Blatter.  When the FIFA train comes off the rails, this is the man who will be driving it.  You don’t think that he might possibly have something interesting to say, do you?

5  Carolina Morace – Former Italian national team player and Canadian Women’s Team coach who basically got sold out by her own federation right before the world cup.

No team failed to live up to expectations quite like the Canadian ladies did last year.  They had one of the few truly unstoppable players in the world in Christine Sinclair and she never really showed up in Germany.  But right before the world cup, there were all kinds of rumblings and rumors and innuendo of bichin’ and moaning and outright warfare between the team and the federation with the coach caught squarely in the middle.

4  Nicholas Anelka – Formerly of Chelsea and now playing for Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese Super League

Asia is rapidly becoming the vast frontier of world football.  Korea and Japan have very solid leagues now and Australia joined the federation some years back and their league is about eight years behind the MLS:  but it is improving rapidly.  The next league to shift up a few gears is going to be the Chinese Premier League.  This winter Chinese clubs have started to look to buy outdated European players to help bring the league up.  A bid was tabled for Didier Drogba and there are persistent rumours that John Terry might go to China as well.  But the first player to take the plunge was Nicholas Anelka who went to Shanghai Shenhua.  This could be interesting stuff given that though enormously talented, Anelka has a mercurial disposition (to say the least) and so could struggle to adapt to life in China.

3  Yaya Toure – The real best player in the world!

Box to box, this man is the real best player in the world.  He marries sublime attacking skills with an amazing physicality on defense (without being a dirty player). He is big, fast, clever and humble.  As an athlete, he reminds me most of Bo Jackson.  It should be illegal to pack that much talent in a body that big and muscled.  He started off playing with Lionel Messi at Barcelona and was the first player that Manchester City bought when the Emirates money gusher started flowing.

2  Stuart Holden – the most talented, but snake bitten, player on the US Men’s National team.

If there was ever a player who deserves so much more than his career has served up to him it is Stuart Holden.  He should be basking in the glory of being the creative attacking fulcrum of the US Men’s team but it seems that every time his career is looking to peak, he gets a major injury.  He broke his leg before the last world cup, and then broke he leg again last spring when he was playing some of the best football in the EPL.  Bolton has not been the same club since he went down and the US team has also struggled to do play anything even close to resembling attacking football.

1  Dean Howell – Crawley Town journeyman lower league left side defender.

Really this could be any one of a myriad of players who play their football in complete anonymity in the lower professional divisions and semi-pro conference.  His name became known this weekend as he played a man’s game against Bristol City in the FA Cup and was rewarded with a place in ESPN’s team of the week.  I would love hear what has kept him playing for so long in the bottom professional league in the UK.  How does his life compare to someone from the top of the Premier League such as Rio Ferdinand who makes as much in a week as I do in five years.

These are the sorts of people that I want to read about in the months ahead.  I am fining myself more and more fascinated by the business of football on the global scale and less and less interested in the players themselves.  The players, for the most part seem to be turning into cartoon characters or, better yet, the equivalent of professional wrestlers (or should I say “sports entertainers”) with heel and face characters that are played up by the media and played to by the referees…

Of course though, as I peruse the football pages of my beloved Sun, I will find myself regaled by tales of Wayne and Colleen, Youtube videos of the latest amazing trick shot by Ronaldinho and the sordid details of the latest Mario (Why Me?) Ballotelli stupidity – and oh yes, Mario, I saw you stamp on the head of one of my favourite Spurs players this morning and get away with it as the (supposed) best referee in the EPL  either had his hair blowing in his eyes or was scooping the poop of his seeing eye dog!

A Few Words From A World Renowned Soccer Scientist

Dr. Bunsen Honeydew here, with Beaker (“meep, meep, meep, meep, meep, meep,)ready to analyze the results and conclusions from the “the Beckham Experiment”. 

David Beckham’s fifth season ended several weeks ago with the Los Angeles Galaxy defeating Houston in a game that was pretty much devoid of any entertainment value.  In other words, it was your basic common or garden cup final.  The game will be most memorable for possibly, most likely probably, David Beckham’s final game in the US for the Galaxy. 

The Galaxy is off in Asia right now making the most of their last chance to pimp Beckham to his vast legions of Asian admirers.  After that he will be rather busy entertaining offers from wealthy businessmen in sharp suits with sharper pens looking to buy their piece of the David Beckham media machine.

Beckham is a very enjoyable player for the purist to watch play the game.  His particular skill set was a huge risk and experiment for the MLS in general since the most important feature of his game is guile.  This was a calculated risk of course since playing in Los Angeles meant he played in front of very knowledgeable Hispanic fan base who appreciate that sort of game.

If Beckham leaves the MLS, and it is not necessarily a done deal that he will, his leaving will create a void in the league that may not move to fill.  The MLS, seemingly, is about players who can run and run and run.  They tackle something and then they run and run some more.  The goal seemingly is to run and kick the other team off the field by any means necessary.

The player who can control a ball with one touch and turn and sent the ball sixty or seventy yards across the field and hit a player in stride was non-existent in the league at the time Beckham arrived.  Hell, they are a rare commodity in the elite leagues.

MLS is going to need to figure a way to bring “guile and craft” into the league if it wants to move forward.  Watching moderately skilled running machines put in 15 miles of mediocrity is not going to grow the game in this country.   At some point the league must deliver more. 

At times there have been some superb players in the league (just never enough of them).  Marco Etcheverry played for DC United at the league’s inception and would have been a superstar in any league in the world.  The league never did do enough to pimp his skills; mainly because the league was still trying to achieve stability.

Perhaps he would have been an even bigger star had he chosen to ply his trade at a Spanish club:  his skills (and his temperament) had no boundaries.  To this day, he is my favourite MLS player of all time. Cuauhtémoc Blanco is another player who brought that same extra touch of something special to the Chicago Fire for a couple of years.  But he lacked the amazing work ethic of Etcheverry.

Since the league goes to nineteen teams for the 2012 season, this means that the league is scouring the third (and maybe even the fourth and fifth) world for yet more players who can run straight at high speed, put in fifteen to twenty miles in ninety minutes in 90 degrees and 90% humidity and accelerate into the tackle like Troy Polemalu.  Not surprisingly, what they find will be no different to the three or four hundred players already in place in the league.

So perhaps the league should encourage its scouts and officers to entice, cajole, beg, steal or borrow some players with guile.  For example Francesco Totti is reaching the end of his top level career with Roma but would be a marvelous player in New York.  Xavi is 31 now and is a genius with the ball at his feet.  MLS should break the bank to cut a deal with Barcelona for him to come over here sometime in the next two or three years.

There are also some wonderful young players in Europe begging for playing time that MLS should make loan deals for with their parent clubs.  Teams like Barcelona, Manchester United, and AC Milan are always looking for teams to give their up and coming talent playing time.  There is no reason that the MLS could not get some of that talent. 

Every year players, such as burgeoning superstars Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverly of Man U, are sent out on loan to several clubs and different levels of the game to develop and prepare for their glittering futures.  Arsenal has seven or eight players under 21 who are probably as good if not better than 95% of the players in the MLS.  Barcelona has even more players of the highest caliber that they need to send out for experience.

Part of the deal that the MLS needs to cut with the teams that they borrow players from is a reciprocal agreement to send the best MLS academy players to train and study overseas for a season and bring back ideas and skills that will revolutionize the MLS within five years of its inception.  This is what Barcelona did twenty years ago when Johann Cruyff put together their academy and forged deals with Ajax of Amsterdam to help bring Dutch training methods to Spain.

The “Beckham Experiment” has, though some might disagree, been a fantastic success for the MLS.  Just the fact that David Beckham holding the MLS trophy was shown all over Europe and had headline status on the sports pages makes it a success.  The league has been seen and heard around the world. 

Now it’s a question of whether or not the leagues muckity mucks have the bollocks to cash in on the gift that Beckham gave them.  The league has new stadiums and some rabid supporters who want to promote and push the game and their teams.

Now the league must deliver some world class players to play in those stadiums and dazzle and amaze a very knowledgeable fan base before they become dazzled and amazed by something else.  Then the league needs to develop some world class players to excite the imaginations at the grass roots level.  In the meantime, Beaker and I will be practicing “You are my sunshine” and getting ready to stand with everyone else in Section 107.

How Many England Football Players Can You Fit Into A Box?

The answer to that question is blindingly fuckin’ obvious to anyone who watched England play Spain last Saturday:  eleven England players can fit into the box. 

In fact I am sure that Fabio Capello would have thrown a couple of substitutes into the box as well if the referees had been of the professional wrestling variety.  And I have seen it done at the pub league level on numerous occasions.  A player simply steps onto the field when the ref’s back is turned.  

In fact the team I played for always had someone designated to count the number of players the opposition had on the field.  The key is to look for the player in the not-muddy kit.   But, of course, the game we played a 4-4-3 formation for the entire second half has to be considered tactical brilliance and not cheating doesn’t it?  (And we had a goalie as well.)

But my mind is wandering, much like it did during the turgid display of football that England put forward in defeating the real (pay attention Americans) World and European champions.  I can only surmise that Spain was as bored out of their skulls by England’s “pack the back” tactics as everyone else was and it sucked any vestige of wanting to score right out of them. 

Darren Bent should not be titled in the newspapers as “England’s lone striker” but more as the teams “most advanced defender”.  It is the polar opposite of the Brazilian style where a defender is just a forward who starts off a little deeper.  So much wasted talent out there, and so little style or effervescence (or even completed passes) shown.  

Yes – England won that game, but I am also a Tottenham fan and Spurs fans would have jeered and whistled if theywere given a performance like that in a home game.  “Packing the back” is a tactic that San Marino, Azerbaijan or Northern Ireland would attempt to stem the incoming tide of Spanish short passing and cutting runs.  

This was a supposed major footballing power admitting it is now a mediocrity in the global game – that it is now the western-most of the Soviet breakaway republics.  If this is the plan for next summer’s Euros, then (a) England won’t last long and (b) most of us will be down at the Irish pub watching the Republic play honest, enthusiastic football.  How bad was the game?  The moribund Greek football from 2004 was riveting stuff compared to this. 

Some England players did account well for themselves.  Scott Parker was fantastic in his harrying, harassing role as the “holding midfielder”.  What was he holding, you might ask?  Sometimes he was holding Iniesta’s shirt; sometimes he was tugging on Xavi’s shorts – but he was always at exactly the right spot on the field.  

He was the positive in the negative, so to speak.  He really reminds me of a terrier that just wants to play fetch all the time.  I find myself wondering if, perhaps, he carries a deflated soccer ball with him in his mouth everywhere he goes just in case someone wants to play.  I had a dog like that:  brilliant animal, loyal to a fault. 

And the fault for the incredibly negative tactics that were displayed should be assigned to the manager.  Honestly, I wish he had attended his son’s wedding – perhaps the football would have been much better.  Not content, it seems, with destroying one generation of England players, now it is time to start on the next crop.  FA pooh-bahs – please – pay him up now and get rid of him. 

Perhaps you could hold a raffle or something and raise the money that way for his last wages.  Get someone on the job that wants to promote good football, wants to elevate his talented players rather then denigrating them, get someone in there who wants to put on a show.  

What I watched Saturday was appalling, and honestly, made me decide to go and do something else Tuesday instead of watching the England v Sweden game.  After all, nobody can do boring like the Swedes (think Volvo) and now if England is out to take away that title …I have a vision of the teams just standing there and staring at each other for ninety minutes similar in manner to World War 1 trench warfare:  Joleon Lescott with a periscope checking for long range incoming shots from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.  Daniel Sturridge will not be playing forward; rather he will be playing as a forward spotter.  

This may seem rather churlish given that England won the game against Spain 1-0.  But my fear is that the already rather negative “in all aspects of his life” (the correct term is actually “miserable git”) Mr. Capello may see this win as an epiphany and decide that this is the only way to proceed.  Speaking for many of the England fans that I drink and watch games with, a stylish loss with the future England stars playing with verve and élan would have been preferable to the dross from Saturday. 

Young players like Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck, as well as the currently injured Chris Smalling, Jack Wilshire and Tom Cleverly need to be given free rein to create and unleash “English football” back onto the world scene.  I have said it before and just because I like repeating myself, England needs to play English football under an English manager in front of rabid England fans.  

They should not be producing the absolute shite that was paraded to the fans on Saturday.  Give me a glorious defeat, any day over a shallow victory.  After all, this is the nation that honours the Charge of the Light Brigade. 

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse & hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder’d.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

                                                 by Alfred, Lord Tennyson